Blinded and Bedazzled

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Valerie Calam and Anisa Tejpar in three menandwomen three. Photo by Genevieve Caron.

There were many moments while watching Proartedanza‘s SHORT STORIES when I could have reached out and touched the sole of a dancer crouched on the floor. Or extended my leg and joined the moving sculptures making their way diagonally upstage. The Artscape Wychwood Barns theatre was small, with bench-like seats, and V and I were in the front row. The dancers were SOCLOSE we could hear them breathing, feel their body heat, see sweat dripping onto the marley. The intimacy of this setting really set the tone for a show that explored huge ideas: community, communion, what it means to share space with other bodies and to reveal yourself in authentic, meaningful ways.

The first piece, Adam Paolozza’s three menandwomen three — inspired by this e.e. cummings poem (“six are in a room’s dark around”) and Magritte’s The Lovers — opened with six dancers not just blindfolded, but with their entire heads covered in white fabric.The fabric revealed enough of their features that we could tell when their mouths were open or if their nostrils flared as they took tiny steps forward and back, making random movements people do when they think no one’s watching — adjusting shirt straps, scratching a crotch. Then they paired up, and the choreography turned playful, sexy, the repetitive gestures becoming urgent and intense. One dancer kept getting thrown onto the floor then circling back to touch his partner. Partners switched, pairings evolved, and despite (or maybe due to) the dancers not being able to fully see each other, the movements were fluid, natural, with extra attention paid to making space for each other. What struck me most was the contrast when they took off their head coverings and eyed each other with suspicion and nonchalance. Suddenly, even when they weren’t touching, they were in each other’s way, mumbling “Sorry” and “Excuse me” without meaning it, like commuters elbowing each other at the subway station, hurtling towards the next moment without being truly present. The possibilities for communion are lost.

The second piece by Matjash Mrozewski was a gorgeous adaptation of the myth of Semele. Louis Laberge-Côté portrayed a modern-day hoodied Zeus seducing the young Semele, danced by Valerie Calam, who had a way of making simple en dedans ronde de jambes look both innocent and flirtatious. The two were amazing, all long limbs and feline phrasing, with great acting to boot — the look on their faces as they knelt in front of the audience and arched back, as if feeling the wind on their cheeks, was pure bliss. Anisa Tejpar as the jealous wife Hera embodied steely intensity (accented by lightning flashes) from her chair as she watched the lovers’ escapades. The part where she played with Semele’s head and Semele unconsciously puppeted her arm movements was brilliantly executed. When Semele insisted that Zeus fully reveal himself to her in his god-like form (by unzipping his hoodie — a minor symbolic hiccup), the tragic result is inevitable. There are limits to what we can see of each other, what we can withstand.

The third section, Robert Glumbek’s Story Inside, was much less narrative-driven but propelled by an interior monologue expressing hesitation and social anxiety. At one point, the voiceover sounded like a contemporary Prufrock (“I have measured out my life with coffee spoons”), as he wondered if it was even worth doing something since it could easily end up with him being impaled on a fork. This piece shamelessly showed off the five dancers’ physical prowess, especially Justin de Luna’s lightning-quick reflexes and articulate torso. I wish I could watch this piece a second time, and that it was longer — so many little choreographed nuances demand to be savoured again. I still think about this part where the dancers lie diagonally onstage, and the last dancer gets up then steps back to touch the next person’s face, and the next person rolls up and touches the next, like a movement chain, a telephone game, a dance of connections and disconnections.

Each piece lasted around 20 minutes each. I was blown away and wanted more. Thought-provoking and brilliantly performed, SHORT STORIES is definitely my favourite dance show of the year so far.

  • Google tells me that cummings wrote a script for a ballet that was never performed. It was called Tom, after Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Balanchine was supposed to produce it, then changed his mind. I want to get my hands on that script!
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